WHELEN GEOFF BODINE BOBSLED CHALLENGE
by Walter Newcomb
Ah the trials and tribulations of a weekend spent in
adverse weather conditions. The Fourth Annual Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge
for the benefit of the Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project presented a great backdrop to
weave a unique missive to start the New Year out right. TBax has been
waiting for my use of the word “missive” on The Chrome Horn for quite some
time. Humor me and read along.
Timing is everything when it comes to traveling through New York
City. The engineering crew for “The Morning Drive” on Sirius NASCAR radio
described their surprise of the desolation that was mid-town Manhattan. Just
seven hours after the world focused on the bustling metropolis where the
ball drops in Times Square to start off another new year, there didn’t
appear to be a sole person on the street. How appropriate was it for them to
come out of the first commercial break with U2’s “New Year’s Day” as the
It remained fairly quiet for most of the trip up to the Olympic
Center. People seemed to be out and about in the little village of Keene
just south of Mount Van Hoevenberg. Once at the mountain, the
Complex was abuzz with activity.
The first person I recognized was Brian Sharp from Racing
Electronics. Brian introduced me to his daughter Danielle who was helping
him get a bunch of radios sorted out in the bobsled building. After being
cooped up in the Casa del Toro for six hours I really felt like making a
wisecrack like, “Don’t they have child labor laws in this state?” I didn’t,
I asked Brian where I might find Don Barker or Bob Cuneo. He didn’t know and
after I took a tool around the press center I headed for the Crowne Plaza
Once at the host headquarters for the weekend’s events, there were
a lot of friendly faces. I got there in plenty of time to help Bob Cuneo and
John Morgan relocate two of the event sleds out of the hotel lobby and the
Olympic Arena. We brought them to a local supporter’s garage. They’d
graciously loaned the Bobsled Project a little room. Fortunately, that won’t
be necessary in the future.
The accommodations at the Crowne Plaza are first rate. They ought
to be. I shopped for groceries in a local supermarket with which the New
Englanders shop to get their savings. The place was a madhouse. So was the
rest of the town. Not a store was closed. Hey! Isn’t it supposed to be quiet
on New Year’s Day?
On Friday I ventured to Mt. Van Hoevenberg with a big box full of
banners courtesy of Denis Morgan. On the way, I saw Denis pulled to the side
of the road. I’m figuring, here we go, somebody else crashed into Denis
again. My buddy exited his truck with a camera and began taking pictures.
Oh, thaaats why he stopped. I took out my camera too. A moose was nibbling
on a tree about a hundred yards off of the main road.
Once at the venue my intentions were to help Mr. Morgan and his
girlfriend, Michelle, hang sponsor banners all over the place. Based on the
weather conditions, reaching the location of the soon to be dedicated Bo-Dyn
Bobsled Project Race Shop with the Casa del Toro were out of the question.
I began climbing a stairway which appeared to lead to the new
building. As it turns out, it was a stairway to nowhere. The steps actually
go beyond the height of the building.
After analyzing the situation, we figured crashing down an icy
slope was probably the lesser of two evils when juxtaposed against retracing
our steps to the bottom of the stairs and walking up the roadway to the
front of the building. After all “today is as good a day to die as any”.
I’ll spare everyone from the four-page version of what happened
next. Don Barker said that we needed to get the building organized for the
dedication. Two hours later I walked back into the hotel appearing as though
I had just buried a body. Picture the scene from Kill Bill Vol. 2 where the
protagonist asks for a glass of water at the diner and substitute a 6’4”
360lb man for that character. Yes, I was a big filthy mess.
Once cleaned up I was back in the lobby to witness goodie time.
Shortly after the celebrity guests arrive they are directed to a room where
they are outfitted with attire befitting the climate. The folks at Columbia
Sportswear provided fantastic outerwear that made the temperatures, which
were frequently sub-zero, not only bearable but quite comfortable.
You’re not Paul Bartholomew. I saw someone wearing Paul’s
credential. It wasn’t Paul. I didn’t say anything until I saw Paul. He was
wearing someone else’s badge. I told the Sprint Vision anchor, “I guess
you’re a corner announcer now; trouble in turn four!” Yes a corner announcer
had his pass.
I ate lunch with Dan Goodwin. Dan is a great friend to the Bobsled
Challenge. He’s the nicest person I’ve ever met who is involved in the legal
profession. No lawyer jokes until I change the subject.
The National Guard, which has been a big part of the Whelen Geoff
Bodine Bobsled Challenge, was out again in force this year. They unloaded
a Dale Earnhardt, Jr. show-car and fired it up at the hotel’s front entrance.
Meanwhile one of their support vehicles was getting a parking ticket across
the street. Don’t try to fight city hall; even in a vehicle that says
National Guard in foot tall letters, government plates and a driver wearing
Once away from the local cop, our guardsman took to getting the
event bobsleds lined up in front of the new building at Mt. Van Hoevenberg.
The press conference and photo shoot there was a mob scene. It was all of
the congestion one might find at a pit fight without the animosity. Geoff
Bodine christened the building with a bottle of champagne. It finally broke
on the third swing.
This is new! At the bottom of the track, gone is the scoring
trailer, port-a-john and the four foot by six foot announcer’s booth. In
their place is a brand new building that includes broadcast facilities,
state-of-the-art timing devices and an honest to goodness toilet. In
addition, the entire track now has a roof over it. Parts of the track have
retractable shades but the roof over the section by the lower exit dock was
completed this year.
Walk, walk, walk…the competitors got together at start number three
and donned creepers in preparation for their “Bobsled 101” class. Creepers
are actually like rubber sandals that strap over boots or shoes. They are
equipped with spikes to make the slippery ice surface passable on foot if
one creeps along. U.S. Bobsled team coaches Bill Tavares and Brian Shimer
led their classes on a stroll down to the finish.
My favorite part of every bobsled weekend was next. It’s great to
watch the faces of all the bobsled virgins as they get out after their first
ride. It is an opportunity to see a level of elation with which I have not
found anything to compare. Whelen Southern Modified
Tour champion, Brian Loftin, earns this year’s award for being the most
Everyone was all smiles at the reception held at the Olympic Arena.
Geoff Bodine says, “How can I not do this? Look at the smiles on all of
Later, we ate at Nicola’s on Main St. It is a great place for
dinner. Thanks to Mark DiPerno from SportsInsurance.com for dinner. Before
anyone knew it, we were told, “Wheels up at 8:15!” It had been a long day
and I took that as my cue to leave.
I headed back toward the hotel. A pillow was calling my name. First
I had to climb Mt. Rainier. The walkway was steep and its icy base was
covered in fresh snow. My lungs were burning by the time I got to base camp;
As I approached the entrance, I could hear giggling from behind. It
was Joey Logano with his female entourage. Joey warned that he might
“tackle” one of the ladies in the snow. I told Joey that he was too light to
mention the word tackle unless he was holding a fishing pole.
Remember the order at dinner last night? “Wheels up at 8:15!”
whatever that means. It’s 8:30 and there isn’t a soul in the Press Center
except yours truly.
At about 9 am, Geoff Bodine was announced as the first in the
track. Terry Kent, one of the venue announcers and an Olympian in his own
right, popped in and gave me a lift to the exit dock. Terry competed in
Kayak and sports one on the roof of his SUV.
Several members of the MRN staff got to take a ride down during the
morning session. Dave Moody from Sirius Speedway took three runs down. Twice
with Boris Said and once with Joey Logano. MRN Producer, Ryan Horn, went
down on a four-man articulated sled and so did Reverend Don Rivers from
Racing with Jesus Ministries. The four-man bobsleds are considerably faster
than the two-man versions.
The brakeman on Reverend Don’s ride was wearing a helmet-cam and
I’m sure the footage is awesome. Horn and Moody were wired for sound and I’m
pretty sure their commentary will be heard on Sirius 128 throughout the next
There was a long break in the action after the Bodine practice
session had concluded. The bobsleds that are used for the bobsled challenge
are basic sleds that are not articulated. Once these bobsleds reach speed,
they really start to tear up the ice along the course.
What’s the difference? It is the difference between a fixed-axle
vehicle like a go-kart versus a vehicle with a live axle. If one were to
drive both, on a bias, up a steep banked curve, similar to those on the
bobsled course, at least one wheel would lose contact with the surface on
the kart where the live axle vehicle would be more likely to keep four
wheels on the ground.
When a runner on one of these basic bobsleds leaves the surface,
the cornering forces, which become quite extreme, wind up getting
transferred to the remaining runners in contact with the ice. Consequently,
the runners on those basic bobsleds tend to carve up the ice on the bobsled
course considerably more than those of the runners on an articulated bobsled
like the Bo-Dyn bobsleds that Bob Cuneo and his staff put together for our
It’s cold at the top. It’s colder at the upper exit dock a mere
hundred yards away from the warming hut where the Bodine competitors finish
their runs. I can only imagine how frigid it must be up at start #1.
Our American athletes are piloting their Bo-Dyn bobsleds down from
the top in pursuit of a U.S. National Championship. These competitors are
wearing what amounts to a full-body leotard. The women are so cold by the
end of their runs that they shake nearly uncontrollably in chill.
John Napier is one of our best bobsled pilots. I interviewed him as
a part of my first story up here three years ago. John’s mom Betsy told on
her son up in the finish building today. Apparently Napier borrowed Betsy’s
pickup and flipped it on the way to Mt. Van Hoevenberg this
accident didn’t bother the young slider too much. Napier and his brakeman,
Cory Butner, grabbed the lead at the end of their first run and there was no
What was our start time? That was what was most on the minds of the
competitors as they exited their sleds. Judy Shea dutifully records them.
Start time is everything in bobsledding at most tracks around the world. The
technically challenging course at Lake Placid is one of the few where
piloting talent can overcome a poor start.
When the time came for qualifying, Ray Dunlap and
Phil Kurze took
to some housekeeping chores. The pair began to sweep the roof. Sweep the
roof? Yes the snow that had fallen last night was blowing off of the roof
and making it difficult to conduct an interview without a white-out.
Just when you think everything is going okay things can take a sour
turn. Reverend Don Rivers asked a question of Olympic Sports Complex
Manager, Tony Carlino. Tony responded, “What people don’t realize is the
inherent danger there is in this sport. We have to keep the safety of the
competitors in mind at all times.”
What’s the worry right? We haven’t seen anyone get out of line all
weekend. Just then we heard the call…eighty-one! Eighty-one is the call they
make when a bobsled flips. Eric Curran got behind in his steering and hit
hard enough to break his helmet.
Two runs later, the four-man bobsled that was providing courtesy
rides for sponsors and special guests flipped. A representative of Lumber
Liquidators was onboard for a “slide on the side” half way down the
The accident with the four-man sled pretty much brought the
courtesy rides to a halt. Fortunately, everyone was okay. Boris Said
graciously lent Eric his helmet for Curran’s qualifying run.
Speaking of qualifying, Todd Bodine squeezed in another pole, his
second in four years (with a little help). Initially Todd was supposed to
have a different brakeman. He snuck guardsman Kenneth Stout, one of the
larger guardsman, which may have contributed to a slight advantage. Either
way Todd was fast all weekend.
NHRA Top Fuel competitor J.R. Todd picked up on something,
somewhere. He gets my vote for most improved of the drivers who had been
there before. He 81’d at the top of the labyrinth last year and never seemed
to be in the running for a quick time. He was slowest in qualifying but he’s
Cocktail hour at the banquet and auction was sponsored by Flink &
Smith. I got to see Ed Flink at the banquet but missed him on the hill. I
really wanted to get a couple of pictures for him to share.
One person I was kind of surprised to see this weekend was George
Silberman from NASCAR. George did take a ride down in the four-man Saturday
and one ride was fine with him thank you. Special thanks to George and
NASCAR for sponsoring Saturday’s dinner.
Ray Dunlap did an outstanding job with the auction. The “Be an MRN
Pit Reporter” that offered a real on-air opportunity for the Cup race at
Watkins Glen went for about six-hundred bucks. I wish Pete Milano and Gary
Danko could have been there to bid on that one.
Sunday is race-day. In previous years, Saturday has been race-day.
Either way I was wondering where people were again when I got to the track.
There were plenty of fans on hand at the finish.
I watched the vehicles ferrying competitors and sponsors up the
hill to start three from the upper exit dock. Meanwhile I was privileged to
have full access to America’s World-Class athletes as they competed in their
final two National Championship heats.
Steven Holcomb, who is the pilot of USA 1 on the World Cup Tour,
wound up finishing third behind Napier by 0.70 seconds after four combined
runs. In all fairness to Holcomb, the bobsled that he usually competes in is
in Europe and he ran the National Championship races in borrowed equipment.
Napier and Butner didn’t have a single start time that was better than those
of Mike Kohn & Jacob Miller or Holcomb & Curtis Tomasevicz. It’s a tribute
to how well John as honed his skills as a pilot.
Aside from these Olympians, World Cup and future hopeful’s
excitement, there was post race tech. just like at our races. Each sled went
across the scales along with their pilot and brakeman. In their case
however, it is incurring the wrath of an official for being overweight that
is the dread of these competitors.
Bree Schaaf and
won the Women’s two-man event by 1.37
seconds over four combined runs. Second was the team of Phoebe Burns and
Jamie Greubel and third were Jamia Jackson and Jazmine Fenlator. Okay, I’ve
got eight minutes.
Eight minutes? Yes that was the intermission time between the end
of the National Championship competition at the upper exit dock and the
pre-race ceremonies at start three. Get a move on it Walt.
I later explained to Phil Kurze how walking the trails up and down
around this course is a lot like driving a big truck for me. I use a lot of
air and fuel climbing the steep inclines. It burns the heck out of the lungs
when it is that cold. When coming down the hills I’ve got to make sure not
to overheat the brakes or abuse the tires.
Reverend Don gave the perfect invocation. We were also treated to a
wonderful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner to get the festivities
kicked off. Now Walt, get back to the finish.
Todd Bodine beat Joey Logano by 0.40 seconds to take down the win
in the first race. Logano edged third place finisher, Larry Gunselman, by
0.02 seconds. And then came the NASCAR vs. NHRA event.
The NASCAR representatives were Geoff Bodine, Todd Bodine, Joey
Logano and Boris Said. The NHRA contingent was represented by Jeg Coughlin,
Bob Vandergriff, J.R. Todd and Morgan Lucas. They faced off on either side
of a bracket and eliminated one competitor on each run until one NHRA and
one NASCAR driver remained.
The competition was amazing. Bob Vandergriff 81’d in the first
round when he flipped coming out of Shady II. His bobsled went all of the
way over and he slid a good portion of the track on his head! Fortunately
he’s got strong neck muscles from playing college football and had the
athleticism to get his helmet beneath the cowl of his sled to get that head
off of the ice.
Todd Bodine appeared to have knocked Boris Said off of the mountain
as he faced down Morgan Lucas in the final. The treat was that for this
year’s head-to-head final, the NASCAR and NHRA winners would face off in
real world-class Bo-Dyn Bobsleds. The National Guardsmen who had served as
brakemen for the competition were supplanted by U.S. Bobsled Team coaches
Brian Shimer and Bill Tavares. A coin flip determined with which driver they
would each serve.
Morgan had a great run will Bill Tavares. Tavares was elated with
Lucas' performance. Morgan was a little late coming off of "the Trickle"
Turn 18. Their down-time was nearly two seconds faster than any pass he had
made all day. Bill looked like a man who had been lost at sea thanking the
powers that be and almost kneeling to kiss the very ground on which he
Todd Bodine was flirting with an outstanding run and was more than
a quarter second faster than Lucas at the final split. Todd Bissonette took
a photograph of the run that really told the story of how Brian Shimer felt
about riding with Bodine. Shimer is perhaps America’s most recognizable
member of the bobsled community with the possible exception of John Morgan.
Shimer is a man who has literally thousands of passes on this very
track from start one all of the way at the top of the hill. On this run
Bissonette captured Brian’s eyes as big as saucers as the pair sped through
turn fourteen. He may have no fear but seeing that image only related a look
of sheer terror to me.
Unfortunately for Todd and
Shimer, Bodine was just a little later
than Lucas coming off of Turn 18 and as a result the Bo-Dyn sled wound up on
its side. Shimer related that that was the first time he had been over
(81’d) in a two-man sled that he wasn't driving.
Bob Cuneo asked Todd, “How does it feel to own a bobsled?” That
bobsled was actually the same bobsled that Grayson Fertig piloted to fourth
place in the National Championship event. Everyone was in good spirits
afterwards and the bobsled only appeared to have slight damage to its cowl
I got over to the Press Center to file an update for the folks here
at TCH. Jason Cunningham was putting together his releases from the event.
It was all over way too soon. But I can’t stop smiling about it.
I thanked a ton of people on that final post from Mt. Van
Hoevenberg. By comparison, the list of people that need to be thanked is far
longer. So many people contribute in different ways. I want to mention Eric
Morse. Eric does a ton of work getting the whole show produced. Special
thanks to Phil Kurze, Bob Cuneo, Don Barker and John Morgan who always make
things easy for me. By the way John, your brother Sean says that he’s the
real bobsledder in the family.
It was a long trip home Sunday night. It will be an even longer
time before the Fifth Annual Whelen Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge comes
around. Fortunately the first SPEED TV broadcast of this year’s challenge
will be on Sunday, January 18th at Noon. Check your local listings for times
in your area. For those who can’t wait to see how our U.S. Bobsledders do in
international competition, check to see if your television provider has
Universal Sports is an NBC cable channel that carries all kinds on
International competitions from track and field to swimming to gymnastics
and winter sports. I was pleased to find it available to those who had the
least expensive cable box option in our area.
We’re going to try to get to AC for the Motorsports Show and the
Indoor races this week. I don’t know whether we’ll wind up at the boiling
point casino again but we’ll post updates from there when we can.
by Walter Newcomb
Newcomb / Annual Whelen Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge